A tiny miracle happened yesterday. Actually, six or seven tiny miracles happened yesterday.
Shortly after finding two young rabbits at the end of our driveway, Robert and I built a two-story rabbit hutch with eight cages. Shortly after that, one of Robert’s colleagues gave us an adult male and an adult female rabbit, along with one of their male offspring (yes, if you’ve read the introduction on The Meadow page, you already know this).
Since we are now in the rabbit production business (okay, since we now own rabbits), we immediately housed the male and female adults together in hopes of getting a new batch started right away. I did remember that rabbits are supposed to multiply like crazy, and I thought I remembered that, at the Polyface Farms’ field day I attended in July, Daniel Salatin had mentioned something about rabbits having a short gestation and large litters. Short of those tidbits, we were flying by the seat of our pants, as usual.
Maybe I should have taken a bit more seriously the fact that on the very first day they were together, the male rabbit proceeded to chase the female rabbit around the cage – attempting to ride her.
Well, I did hit the internet in search of how to tell if a rabbit is pregnant. I got side-tracked, however, by an interesting story written by a woman who tried to get her rabbits to mate, only to have two false tries and only a single kit (or maybe two or three?) after the third mating. Don’t ask me why, but I guess I put too much stock in that story and decided that our male couldn’t possibly have impregnated our female on the first try. Anyway, she wouldn’t let me near her to try to “palpitate her abdomen,” or touch her at all, for that matter.
A week later, I looked up the actual gestation (30-32 days), found out how many kits in an average litter (5-9 for medium-sized breeds), attempted to figure out what kind of rabbits we have (Wikipedia, please make the pictures much bigger on the List of Rabbit Breeds page), and researched what kind of living quarters pregnant females need when giving birth (a nesting box). But, since I really couldn’t figure out for sure whether our mama rabbit was pregnant, we decided to go about our business and leave the perfectly contented rabbits alone.
Still, every time I went to feed the rabbits or check their water levels, something in the back of my mind told me I ought to be prepared, just in case a successful mating did take place. So, about this nesting box. Well, I thought that would be a piece of cake little project that would take me maybe 30 minutes to complete with scraps of wood – we have plenty of those – and a few nails. I should have known I was in trouble the minute I started thinking something would take just 30 minutes to complete.
The nesting box project was pretty much abandoned until late yesterday afternoon, when I noticed that Mama rabbit had assembled a cozy pile of fur in the center of her and Papa’s cage.
Oh boy, I thought, she really is pregnant! According to Grit magazine’s Guide to Raising Backyard Rabbits, pulling fur to make a nest is a sure sign that kindling is imminent.
Actually, come to think of it, I had seen that pile the day before…..and I could have sworn I saw something move under it. Naw, couldn’t be.
One thing I knew for sure, I needed to get Papa rabbit out of Mama’s cage right away. I moved Papa (Fred, actually) into his own cage and started to clean out Mama’s cage in preparation for some nice clean hay (and that nesting box that I would surely need to finish building now). Something told me to be careful when I got close to the fur pile. I gently lifted an edge of the fur and suddenly realized that this was no mere pile of fur – it was a complete nest. Not only that, but this nest was, in fact, moving. I lifted the edge, ever so gently, a little bit more and noticed the source of the movement: I tiny pink kit! Just a little bit more, and now I could see several tiny pink kits, maybe six or seven even!
Knowing that it probably wasn’t a good idea to play with the nest too much (even though Mama didn’t seem terribly upset), I took a quick picture and carefully folded the fur back over the top of the nest. I added some nice clean hay and just a short while later noticed that Mama had put some of the new hay over the nest for added protection. Good job, Mama!
Turns out, the kits were born exactly 32 days after Mama and Papa arrived on the farm, a mere 31 days after I watched Papa chase Mama around the cage. Lesson learned….next time we breed an animal, we will make note of the date of mating and put a big star on the calendar on the mother’s expected delivery date.